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Learn to love the bomb

Combat Flight Simulator 3.

Although every game comes with a manual that details the keystrokes or joystick commands that will turn you from a passive enthusiast into a snarling, bouncing gamer extraordinaire, there’s something compelling about a well-designed, jauntily-written manual that introduces you to a game before you ever hit the power button. Such charm is found in the booklet accompanying Combat Flight Simulator 3: Battle for Europe from Microsoft Game Studios. It’s hard to resist such straightforward advice as “Don’t be a cowboy,” and, most importantly, “Don’t shoot your buddy!”

The manual, rife with photos of WWII fighter pilots and designed like the kind of pocket-sized instruction books shoved into cockpits of wartime Mustangs, reflects perfectly how the flight simulator manages to combine historical authenticity with funky design. Like other of its ilk, the game puts you in the pilot’s seat of the aircraft that you choose. You can also prove your ambition and demonstrate your talents by switching to the bombardier seat or the gunner position.

The ability to swap from one chair to another is striking, and one of the best aspects of the game. As bombardier, I was able to fiddle with the flight path or see lovely European villages through a bombsight, but I had to jump back to the cockpit to avoid crashing when the plane began to list dangerously to one side. Best of all, I could choose what kind of attributes that I, as a dogfighting hellion, could possess. As it turns out, I make a great tough-as-nails gunner. Who would have guessed?

Like most games from Microsoft Studios, the graphics here are stunningly good, with rich detail and bright explosions galore. This version has a new graphics engine that delivers crisp weather effects and clearer ground attack targets. So what are you waiting for? Go save Europe, flyboy.

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